Five years of collecting weather data have given local grape growers hope there might be a wine industry in the Arrow Lakes area some day.
“Are we going to have a winery on every corner like the Okanagan? Probably not,” says Jerry Botti, president of the Arrow Lakes Grape Growers Society. “But we can certainly have a few here, and we can certainly have growers who can sell to other areas.”
The Society has just completed its study of temperatures along the shores of the lake. In 2012 volunteers set up 39 temperature recording units in Nakusp, East and West Arrow Park, Burton, and the Edgewood-Needles area. The loggers recorded temperature and relative humidity in the area.
“We focused on temperature, and out of the temperature data we can calculate growing-degree days, and frost-free days,” said Botti.
The results were not unexpected, but there were some surprises. Arrow Parks East and West tended to be cooler than the other three regions; Burton and Nakusp were quite similar, and Edgewood/Needles showed there were two distinct micro-climates.
“It’s quite unique there, the lower levels by the water were quite cool, but areas higher up in elevation were extremely warm,” he says. “In Edgewood, a lot depends on where your land was situated.”
But overall, with 180-190 frost-free days, the Arrow Lakes area has a climate that’s quite comparable to the Summerland area of the Okanagan, says Botti. That means the kind of grapes that grow between Kelowna and Salmon Arm would work well here as well.
“We’re not going to grow Merlot grapes or the super-big reds that require a lot of heat and super-long growing seasons,” says Botti. “But we never expected we would.
“Osoyoos is the minimum range for those. But definitely, there are other varieties that will grow within our area.”
And while the winters can be harsher here than in the Okanagan, the more reliable snowfall would also tend to insulate the plants through the coldest days.
Botti says some local enthusiasts have already begun planting varieties that have shown some promise in the Grape Society’s experimental vineyard. That project still has one year left testing 21 hardy grape varieties.
“We have been in touch with vineyards in the North Okanagan, and they have expressed interest to be buyers,” he said. “So if people have land, and want to get into it, there is likely a market for it somewhere, if they don’t want to go the winery route.”
“The winery idea is sexy and romantic, but there is quite an expense to get into it.”
Anyone with the deep pockets and time for a vineyard can now grow with confidence that the data backs up their dream. Botti says he thinks he knows what might work best.
“Our potential is there, certainly as a white-wine region,” he says. “In our case, we think sparkling wine would be a good fit for our region.
“We tend to have higher acidity in our wines, so you can balance that out with the sparkling component.”
The data can also be used for people looking to grow other cash crops besides grapes, said Botti. The information will be posted publicly on the Society’s website in the coming weeks.